This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Feb. 1, 2007


After shocking the world last March, what could Holy Cross possibly do for an encore? The Crusaders’ win over top-seeded Minnesota put the program and Atlantic Hockey on the map, and also put a bulls-eye on coach Paul Pearl’s team.

Expectations can be hard to deal with, but Pearl isn’t sweating it.

“Not to sound egotistical, but the only expectations I care about are my own and my team’s,” he said. “We’re still a new league and frankly, there aren’t a lot of people outside the league with a firm grasp on it. We’re still an unknown.”

The Crusaders are 9-14-4 coming off a tough 7-0 loss last Sunday at Quinnipiac, as the Bobcats opened their new facility, the TD Banknorth Center. Gordie Howe was on hand to drop the ceremonial puck in a game carried by ESPNU.

I asked Pearl if all the hoopla associated with the new facility and a national TV audience put the Crusaders off their game.

“It was just another game,” he said. “We just played awful. That game and our second game with RIT were our two worst games of the year. You get a couple every season. We played pretty well in the first period, but after that we weren’t executing, making stupid maneuvers with the puck.”

To make matters worse, senior defenseman Jon Landry, who is tied for second on the team in scoring, broke his ankle in the game.

“We’ve lost him for the rest of the season,” said Pearl. “It’s a blow but we have a lot of good players and now the question is who is going to step up for us. We have a bunch of guys in new roles this season, doing different things and trying to get better at them.”

Pearl says the biggest improvement his team needs to make at this point is a fundamental one.

“We’re in the minus five-on-five,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team that’s been in the minus for the season even-strength. When our power play was superior, we were making up for it, but not lately.”

Even with the adversity the Crusaders have faced, they still find themselves in fifth place, holding on to one of the home-ice seeds (since first-place RIT is ineligible for the postseason).

“I’m not paying attention to the standings yet,” said Pearl. “I always tell my team not to look at the standings until February, so I’ve got one more day before I start paying attention.

“I don’t want to be hypocritical about it,” he laughed.

“We have a seven-game season, all ahead of us,” Pearl added. “If we play pretty well, we’ll be rewarded. We have to bring it together. In this league, it’s not a cliché. Anybody can beat anybody It’s going to go down the wire.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week for January 29, 2007:
Matt Smith, RIT
– The junior from Toronto, Ontario, had a pair of goals to help the Tigers to a road sweep at AIC. His 16 goals lead his team, and his 10 power-play tallies are third in the nation.

Goaltender of the Week for January 29, 2007:
Josh Kassel, Army
– Kassel wins the award for the second consecutive week, this time for stopping 42 of 44 shots as the Black Knights picked up three points last weekend against Connecticut. Kassel had a shutout on Saturday, his third of season.

Rookie of the Week for January 29, 2007:
Dave Jarman, Sacred Heart
– Jarman recorded two goals and an assist to help the Pioneers sweep Canisius last weekend, including the game-winner on Friday. His 12 points is tops among Sacred Heart freshmen.

The Glass Is…

Half empty, and half full for the Bentley Falcons.

On the bright side, Bentley has taken points in all but two league series so far this season.

On the other hand, the Falcons, last year’s runners-up in Atlantic Hockey, have yet to sweep a series, and find themselves in seventh place in the standings.

“It’s a hurdle we’ve yet to overcome, stringing wins together,” said coach Ryan Soderquist. “We’re in a bit of a rebuilding year, losing nine seniors last season. That class may not have been all over the scoresheet, but they had 15 game winning goals. They won some big games for us.”

This season, the Falcons have only two seniors in the lineup most nights, three when goaltender Ray Jean is in net. Lately, Soderquist has been juggling three goaltenders, for now settling on sophomore Jason Kearney, who stopped the bleeding by allowing just three goals last weekend against Air Force.

“We’ve been giving up a lot of goals,” said Soderquist. “Twelve goals against Mercyhurst. Nine goals against AIC. In probably five of our last six games we outshot our opponent.

“Kearney only played half a game before last weekend, but he did a nice job and he’ll get the next start. But it’s not a position you want to be in this late in the season, not being sure of your starter.”

The Falcons are two points out of a home-ice playoff spot and play a home-and-home this weekend with resurgent AIC.

“They’re a dangerous team,” said Soderquist. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to be a top-four seed, and we’ve got to play hard to make it. It’s a tough challenge when you have a large group of freshmen and sophomores, but they’re learning.”

Around the League

Air Force: With a 2-0 win against Bentley on Saturday, the Falcons kept their streak alive of not getting swept this season. The shutout was the first of the season for goaltender Ben Worker, but the third this season for Air Force. Andrew Volkening pitched one against AIC and Ian Harper blanked RIT.

AIC: The Yellow Jackets’ PK has been outstanding as of late. In their opponents’ last 33 attempts, AIC has scored as many goals as it’s allowed. Enemy teams are 3-for-33 on the power play, and the Yellow Jackets have scored three shorthanded goals over that span.

Army: The Black Knights are traditionally tough at home, and this season is no exception. Army is 8-1-3 at Tate Rink, its 17th winning season at home since the rink opened in 1985. Army will celebrate Jack Riley Night this Saturday, with a banner honoring the legendary coach who guided the Black Knights from 1950 to 1986. He’s the father of former coach Rob Riley (1986-2004) and current coach Brian Riley. A Riley has been at the helm at Army for 57 years. Jack Riley coached the gold-medal 1960 Olympic team, and was elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.

Connecticut: Senior Cole Koidahl got his 60th assist last weekend, moving him into first place in the school’s record books for the Division I era.

RIT: The Tigers are definitely better the second time around. RIT is 5-4 on Friday nights this season, but 8-0-1 when facing the same team again on Saturday. RIT is keeping some heady company in the stats department. The Tigers have the third-ranked offense in Division I, behind only Michigan and New Hampshire. RIT’s power play is second in the nation, right behind Maine.

Shutout City: Beginning last Saturday, there have been six games played involving Atlantic Hockey teams: four league games on Saturday, Holy Cross at Quinnipiac on Sunday, and Army at AIC on Tuesday. Five of those six games were shutouts. Previous to that, there have been only 13 shutouts involving AHA teams the entire season to date, a span of 159 games over almost four months.

Walter Brown: Two AHA players have been named as finalists for the Walter Brown award, given annually by the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston to the “best American-born college hockey player in New England.” Connecticut’s Matt Scherer and Holy Cross’ James Sixsmith are two of 15 finalists. The winner will be announced in March.

And Finally

CSTV analyst and fellow USCHO writer Dave Starman has made an interesting proposal to “improve” the NCAA tournament. Dave would like to see more “marquee names” in the Big Dance to help increase college hockey’s exposure. His solution? Require the Atlantic Hockey and College Hockey America champs to play down to a single team, which would then face the number-one overall seed.

This would allow one more “marquee name” school into the tournament and reduce the chances of an AHA or CHA team advancing very far, since it would have to win three games at a regional and have to go through the top team to boot. After all, Dave says, who wants to see Notre Dame play Alabama-Huntsville when we can have Notre-Dame Michigan?

Two words for Dave: George Mason.

Remember them? Squeakball? Colonial Athletic Association? Final Four? The Patriots generated more excitement nationally last season than the same old Duke/Kentucky/UConn/UCLA matchups ever could.

Two more: Holy Cross.

Are you kidding me? When’s the last time a college hockey Sweet 16 game was ESPN’s Number One Play of the Day? With all due respect to Gophers fans and even Badgers fans, this game was the game of the NCAAs last year, overshadowing the rest of the tournament.

Two more (times three): Colorado College. Lake Superior. Ferris State.

These aren’t “marquee” schools either, but all have a great tradition and are members of “major” conferences. Are we going to throttle their NCAA chances so more Big Ten schools can make the tournament? And the last I heard, UConn is a pretty well-known school.

Starman prefaced his column by apologizing to AHA and CHA fans, and it’s accepted. But let’s remember that there are 16 teams in the tournament thanks to the AHA and CHA. And I make a prediction now — within three years there will be an at-large team from one of these conferences in the NCAAs. And the Davids will continue to slay some Goliaths.

And that’s the way we like it.